Landmark occasion for Whitty centre project

Plans to transform original Axminster carpet factory into a heritage and visitor centre take a big step forward

Ambitious plans to create a heritage centre in the building where Thomas Whitty made the first Axminster carpets are finally set to go ahead.

After a six year fund-raising campaign organisers have taken possession of the former factory in Silver Street where the famous weaver began production in the 18th century.

It is planned to stage a permanent celebration of Axminster’s world-famous carpet industry in the three-storey building and relocate the town’s museum and tourist Information centre there. There is also room for a shop and caf� in the complex, which it is hoped to have up and running by next spring.

Supporters and civic leaders gathered on Friday for the project’s official launch.

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Trustees’ chairman Dr John Church said it had been a long haul since announcing, in 2005, their ambition to create a visitor and community centre there.

“But we in Axminster are now the proud owners of this ancient building, “he said. “Together we want to provide our town with a fitting memorial to our founding fathers - to be a vibrant centre which is used by all our community, for only by fully utilising the plant can we keep our costs down and justify the enthusiasm of all who have invested in the vision.”

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Dr Church said the purchase of Thomas Whitty House had been made possible thanks to generous financial assistance of Devon County Council, Making it Local, Axminster Carpets, The Sustainable Development Fund, The Manifold Trust ,The Eyre Trust, Axe Vale Festival, Axminster Power Tools, Axminster Care Service, The Norman Trust and several other local donors.

He added: “The centre will form a unique visitor attraction with a time line of the town from Roman times to the present, reflecting the importance of agriculture and in particular the production of wool which will lead on to the spinning, weaving and dyeing of the raw material before it was made into carpets from the middle of the 18th century to the present day.

“The story will be told using videos recorded personal memories and displays of locally made products. Enjoyment, inspiration and education are the messages that we want to pass on.

“We wish to attract family groups, schools and overseas visitors as well as those from the locality.”

Mayor Andrew Moulding said the centre would provide an historical record of the world renowned carpet industry – it was very much a community project.

He joined others in praising Dr Church for sticking by the project from the beginning and also commended the town’s former county councillor Douglas Hull who helped to secure around �200,000 in funding from the authority.

He added: “There is still much to be done with on-going fund raising but I want to congratulate Axminster Heritage on this landmark occasion.”

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